I-35 expansion through Austin could be put on pause by city council

The Austin City Council passed an agenda item that could pause construction on the upcoming I-35 expansion project.

In a seven-page resolution put forward by Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis, the projected emissions for the I-35 expansion project are called "unacceptable" and "out of step" with current efforts to reduce pollution and emissions. At Thursday’s council meeting, the resolution was passed.

RELATED: Plan to expand I-35 through Austin moves toward final approval

"What this resolution does is it asks to make sure that our emissions reductions plans are complete and that TxDOT works those into the finalized plans for the highway," said Mayor Pro Tem Ellis.

According to Mayor Pro Tem Ellis, the resolution could put a pause on the $4.5 billion project until TxDOT can study and figure out a plan to mitigate emissions that are expected to come from this project. She says it also calls on CAMPO, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, to pause funding until that is included in the final plan.

"We know that this project has been in the works for many years, and I just don't want us to miss the boat by having an emission reduction plan come out after the plans are finalized, and we have completely missed our opportunity to incorporate best practices," she said.

Dozens of speakers spoke out during public comment in support of this potential delay in the project. 

RELATED: New details revealed on Austin's plan to cover I-35 through downtown

"We students are deeply concerned about how the environment, green spaces and people's health will be affected by the I-35 expansion," said one public speaker.

Some speakers even mentioned they hoped this could put an end to the project as a whole.

"Austin not only doesn't need a wider I-35, but we don't actually want it either. In fact, most of us would rather the money be invested towards alternatives to driving," said another public speaker.

Mayor Kirk Watson, Council Member Leslie Pool, and Council Member Mackenzie Kelly were the three votes against it. Council Member Kelly backed her decision by saying this resolution calls for work that has already been done.

"My concern is that any potential delay in the project might result in allocated funds for the project not remaining in Austin. Furthermore, if this council assumes that TXDOT or CAMPO would be inclined to support future essential projects in our city while we attempt to delay or obstruct this particular project, I believe we're making a grave error," she said.

Council Member Chito Vela voted in favor of this agenda item, but put his own take on the potential outcome of this.

"Ultimately, I don't think that TxDOT will be delaying this project or significantly modifying it. And if that is the reality, we must do everything we can to mitigate the negative effects. We must create high quality, multimodal east west crossings, adding crossings wherever we can along I-35," he said.